December 28, 2016

Caution after the fall of Sambisa Forest

Caution after the fall of Sambisa Forest

THE storming of Camp Zero in Sambisa Forest by our gallant troops over the past weekend came as a befitting Christmas gift to Nigerians. An elated President Muhammadu Buhari issued a statement congratulating our forces for their bravery and described the feat as “victory” over the Boko Haram Islamist insurgents.

This upbeat mood is understandable, given the fact that since the terrorists fled into the Forest some three years ago and made it their operational base, they have capitalised on its difficult terrain to abduct the Chibok Girls and other hapless victims from their communities, capture territories within and outside Nigeria and stage devastating suicide missions throughout the North East region. They displaced millions of Nigerians and created one of the world’s biggest refugee crises.

The recapture of this territory and the intention of the Army to convert it to their operational base is a major and heart-warming achievement. We congratulate President Buhari, the Nigerian Armed Forces and the people of Nigeria, particularly our citizens in the North East who now have a new impetus to rebuild their homes and resume their livelihood.

We, however, call for great caution, even as we jubilate. The recovery of Sambisa Forest is a major victory in the war against Islamist terror. It, definitely, is not the end of the war. It merely closes a chapter in a complex military challenge.

For instance, as Army Spokesman, Col. Usman Kukasheka has explained, the operations are still on to capture Point Zero. It is probably after achieving this that we can recover the rest of the abducted Chibok school girls and apprehend the leadership of the insurgents such as Abubakar Shekau and Abu Musab Al Barnawi. Without this, the war is not over yet.

Having dislodged the terrorists from their settled territory, many of them must have vanished into local populations or moved to new areas. In scattered form, they are likely to return to guerrilla warfare, operating in small units, aiming mostly at soft targets and increasing suicide bombings. This means that the campaign may even take a more dangerous turn, as the terrorists can strike anywhere.

This is where citizen vigilance and civilian cooperation with the armed forces and security agencies cannot be over-emphasised. This cannot work in the prevailing atmosphere of undue politicisation of the insurgency by almost everyone.

The government must abandon political propaganda and regain the confidence of the populace as well as their cooperation to bring the war on terror to a convincing victory for all Nigerians.

We must also deploy more technology in this effort, while tracking the fleeing terrorists to ensure they do not regroup and resume their dastardly campaign anywhere within the West African sub-region.